Vijai Maheshwari's family

Forced to grow up separated from his relatives, my Syrian-American grandfather thought racist immigration policies were in the past. He was wrong.

It’s no wonder that the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties are back in the popular imagination: The United States 100 years ago was eerily similar to the paranoid “Build the Wall” America of President Donald Trump.

Like today, xenophobia dominated the political discourse, with the native-born population clamouring for restrictions against immigration. With the foreign-born population in 1918 nearing 20 per cent – a similar number to the United States under Trump today – there were renewed concerns of immigrants taking native jobs and diluting America’s racial homogeneity. In the aftermath of World War I, and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, there were also fears that foreign “radicals” and “revolutionaries” could destabilise the United States. (Those fears were not entirely unfounded: A Polish anarchist immigrant had assassinated US president William McKinley in September, 1901.)

Under public pressure, congress passed the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924 that established strict quotas on immigration from Central and Southern Europe, and banned Asians and others from immigrating to the United States.

Though the law was popular among nativists, it caught my Syrian ancestors on the wrong end of the stick. My great-grandmother, a Syrian Christian, had immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s. Her son, my grandfather John Barber, was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1911. Having married young, my great-grandmother hoped to bring the rest of her five children from Syria to the United States after she had received her US citizenship. She was stymied in her hopes by America’s restrictive immigration policies. Arabs, Indians, Japanese and other Asians were declared “non-white” by the Supreme Court in high-profile cases and were banned from admission to the United States. In a …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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